One of the arts events of the year - the world premiere of Tom Stoppard's 19th-century Russian trilogy, The Coast of Utopia, directed by outgoing artistic director Trevor Nunn - drew the great and good from the theatre world to the National Theatre (pictured) on the South Bank this past Saturday, 3 August 2002.

A bevy of celebrities - including previous NT artistic directors Peter Hall and Richard Eyre; actors Olivia Williams, Neil Pearson, Imogen Stubbs (wife of Nunn) and Phyllida Law; feminist Germaine Greer; film director Mike Nichols and his wife, American TV anchor Diane Sawyer; and a Broadway contingency led by Bernard Gersten, executive producer of the Lincoln Center (which has mounted the US premieres of numerous Stoppard plays) - joined national and international critics for a theatre marathon.

With all three plays - Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage - performed in succession, the marathon lasted twelve hours in total, starting at 11.00am and ending at 11.00pm, with some nine hours of performance broken up by intervals and meal breaks. At the end of Saturday's event, the exhausted audience enthusiastically applauded the Herculean efforts of the company as well as their own endurance.

Five years in the researching and writing, The Coast of Utopia is a sweeping epic about Russian intelligentsia, covering three decades of philosophy, politics, revolution and romance. The 30-strong company - which includes Stephen Dillane, Douglas Henshall, Guy Henry, John Carlisle Raymond Coulthard, Eve Best, Charlotte Emerson and Anna Maxwell-Martin - perform in all three plays, portraying an assortment of 70 characters between them.

Author Stoppard has had several successful premieres at the National, including Arcadia, On the Razzle and, most recently, The Invention of Love. Amongst his other plays are Indian Ink, Jumpers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Travesties. Stoppard has also scored big with his screenwriting on films such as Enigma, Shakespeare in Love and The Russia House.

The Coast of Utopia plays, continuing in repertory at the NT Olivier, can be seen individually or as a whole. There are eight more full "trilogy days" currently planned. The August dates (on 17, 24 and 31) are now sold out, but booking is open for September (7 and 14) and October (5, 12 and 19) with further dates expected for November 2002.

- by Terri Paddock